Best Oil Painting Tips: A Beginner’s Guide

Oil painting produces beautiful results however getting started can be mind boggling. As always, practice makes perfect and with the following tips you will be well on your way to becoming a master oil painter!

Supplies that every beginner oil painter needs

Ready to start creating but not sure of what paint supplies to buy? Here is a list of the absolutely necessary essentials for creating your very own oil painting.

  • Oil paint – as far as colours go the must-haves are Titanium White, Ivory Black, Cadmium Red, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Pthalo Blue, Cadmium Yellow Light, and Cadmium Yellow. Your local art shop will help you find the right brand for your budget.
  • Natural, student-grade bristle brushes – get these in a range of different sizes and styles (flat and filbert). We recommend six in total.
  • Turpentine – you can’t clean up oil paints with water so you’ll need to use turpentine or mineral spirits to get the paint out of your brushes.
  • Newspaper – keep your creative space clean and easily clean your brush as you go!
  • A palette- anything will do as long as it’s big enough to hold and mix all of your colours.
  • Painting clothes- oil paint stains are a nightmare to clean! Have a painting outfit or two ready to go.
  • Easel – you do not need to spend a fortune on this when you’re getting started, just make sure it is adjustable to your height and
  • Canvas – choose a pre-primed, stretched canvas so you don’t have to worry about preparing it for painting.
  • Canvas drying rack – oil paintings take forever to dry which is why it is wise to invest in a canvas storage rack such as toastrack which allows up to 8 works to dry at one time.

Understand colour & colour mixing

Grabbing from every single pile while mixing will create a dull and less intense mixture. Practise mixing what you need using only two colours and white. By increasing your colour knowledge and getting better at mixing, you will paint much more efficiently and quickly and your work will benefit from it.

When mixed colours first bump into one another, there are tiny inconsistencies in the mixture that help add vividness and interest to your paint. So, when you combine colours to create a mixture it’s important to make sure that you only mix them as much as necessary before applying the stroke. If you over-mix two colours, you will turn your interesting mixture into a flat and uninteresting pile of paint.

Experiment with different painting techniques

When learning how to paint, virtually every student starts out afraid and overwhelmed by the unforgiving nature of painting in oils. But the transition to oils can be made much smoother by utilising some simple and practical painting techniques.

  • Hold the paintbrush in the right place: to get the most fluidity and sensitivity with your strokes, hold the brush handle as far back as you can. This might feel uncomfortable at first, but it offers the greatest degree of control because it allows you to paint with your whole arm rather than just your wrist.
  • Master your brush orientation: During the process of painting, it can be very easy to forget that your brush has two sides or orientations! You’re not limited to always making wide strokes using the flat side of your brush, as every brush can be turned on its side for sharper lines or strokes. Learning to control your lines with your brush orientation will help you paint faster and with more versatility.
  • Vary your pressure: The heavier your pressure, the more your paints will blend and create ridges along the sides of your brushstrokes. Get familiar with how your light, medium, and heavy strokes look on the canvas and vary your pressure appropriately to achieve your desired effects.
  • Don’t forget the palette knife: The palette knife is not just a trowel that you use to mix paint! It can also be used quite effectively at times to make interesting strokes. A palette knife is particularly useful for making textural and unpredictable strokes – effects that you’d be hard-pressed to duplicate with a brush.

How to clean your oil paints

  1. Get the excess paint out of your brushes by rubbing it with your finger in a newspaper.
  2. Remove all of the paint from the brush by squeezing the brush through the newspaper several times.
  3. Pour some thinner, turpentine or mineral spirits into a container and dip the paintbrush in – scrubbing across the bottom of the container to loosen more paint.
  4. Repeat the technique with the newspaper.
  5. Pump some liquid soap into the palm of your hand and massage the brush in to pull out more oil pigment. Rise your hand and brush as you need.
  6. Continue repeating the process in your palm until the soap stop changing colour.
  7. Rinse out all the soap and use your newspaper one last time to get most of the water out of the bristles.

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